Musical instruments are another common element in his designs, and some lamps feature an entire violin, saxophone or even a guitar. “I have a lot of respect for the instruments I work with, and I will not destroy anything that still works,” says Joe. “That’s just not what I do. I only like to use things that are broken in order to upcycle and repurpose them.”
As word got out about Joe’s creations, a friend encouraged him to try selling them. “We loaded up 43 lamps and took them to the Wentzville Flea Market and we sold 17 that first morning,” Shannon says, adding the collection continued to grow. “A lot of people at shows started approaching us and would say stuff like, ‘I have my grandfather’s fiddle, but it’s not playable and I don’t know what to do with it. Seeing what you do, I think this would be a great way to enjoy it rather than having it sit in a case collecting dust.’ It’s pretty special to see what people entrust to him.”
They named their business Steampunk Sammie Designs after their son, Sammie, who often goes picking for treasures alongside them. “We’ve been going to the local flea market here since Sammie was 6 or 7, and now he works there,” says Shannon. The steampunk aspect embodies a lot for Joe and his love for turn-of-the-20th-century innovation and all things industrial: gears, gauges and yes, even time machines.
“I describe my house as steampunk Willy Wonka,” he says. “It’s one of my favorite movies.”
The couple often invites customers over to their home to view the various items they have available. “You’ve really got to see what you’re buying in its setting. People come over all the time. It’s like show and tell,” Joe says. “It’s all about finding the right person for the right piece. You never know what people are going to want, so I try to make a variety of everything.”
Joe is always on the lookout for the next unique item for one of his creations. His basement is lined with inventory of his unique art waiting for the next show. Lamps made of typewriters and birdhouses sit next to a fishing rod floor lamp. On a nearby shelf, a variety of gumball machines glow with light strings inside. “It’s been an education for me too,” says Joe. “When I find stuff, I don’t always know what it is. I have to research it.”
He loves sharing the stories behind the pieces he’s collected over the years. His eyes light up at the old wooden trunks, early 1900s railroad lanterns, a 48-star flag, old-school phones and 19th century cameras he’s restored.
It’s not uncommon for customers to invite Joe over to their grandpa’s estate or to browse through an old barn on their property. Other times, they bring their heirlooms with them for custom orders. Joe evaluates every piece and discusses color schemes and how big or small the item needs to be to fit well in the customer’s house. “I always like to ask customers what kind of room it’s going in, so I can envision it,” he says.
“Somebody once brought me old metal roller skates and a sewing machine they wanted put on top of the skates,” Joe adds. “I had to make sure it wouldn’t roll off the table.”
“Joe has this fantastically abstract mind that ends in a finished product of high quality and a unique look in our home,” says Jennifer Mendenhall, who owns more than 10 pieces from Steampunk Sammie Designs. “Joe brings a calm eagerness to help bring an idea to life.”
Joe and Shannon travel to several art shows every year in St. Louis, Kansas City and Iowa, and his work is also featured in stores around Boonville. “If I have 150 lamps in a booth space, I have to wear dark glasses,” says Joe, who deals with vertigo. “I have to be very careful what I introduce to my customers, in case they have sensitive eyes like me. I don’t want any of it to hurt their eyes.”
Digging through basements and attics often requires hours of cleaning up the items afterward. It’s a small price to pay, though, for the opportunity to work with such fascinating, old stuff, Joe says. “I don’t like to disturb what nature already created. You can’t reproduce age,” he adds. “You can’t get this from Hobby Lobby. I want to make something that nobody has.”
Visit Steampunk Sammie Designs on Facebook and Instagram, or to learn more call Joe Yuede at 636-578-6529.
Kaiser is a freelance writer from Hartville.